BRADENTON, Fla. -- The 2000 NHRA Winston championship season may be over, but teams hoping to compete for a title next year are already hard at work preparing for the long 24-event schedule. Jim Yates is one of those drivers who didn't waste any time after the NHRA Finals in Pomona to high tail it down to Bradenton, Fla., where he spent the week prior to Thanksgiving shaking down his new 2001 Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am. After his first test session in the car, the two-time Winston Pro Stock champion likes what he sees.
How did your first test session go with the new Pontiac Grand Am? "Great! The car went reasonably fast and reasonably straight. It did everything it was supposed to do. I was real happy with it and very satisfied that it went as fast as it did."
What were some of the numbers you put up? "It went a 6.81 at 201.98. We went a couple of 6.83s, and the first day we went 6.84 and 6.87. After we put our race motor in it, it never went slower then 6.90."
What were some of the things you learned about the Grand Am? "Well, aerodynamically it's a pretty good car. The longer wheelbase makes it really work well on the bumps. There are typically a lot of bumps at the track we were testing on, which is one of the reasons we go there because it's a more real life-situation than going to a track that is a mineshaft. The car with the longer wheelbase handled the irregularities in the track very well. We were real happy. I think the Grand Am is going to work out real well at the national-event tracks. The car went very straight and I think that's due to the longer wheelbase. The aerodynamic package has the car well balanced front to rear. That makes a difference on how the car handles on the track and how much downforce it has. A lot of cars in the past sometimes had problems with being overloaded with downforce on the front, so the faster you'd go, the more push you'd have down in front which makes it easier to steer, but it also unloads the rear of the car which makes it hard to keep it hooked up. With the wind tunnel work they've done on the Grand Am coming in, the car is very well balanced. That makes a real difference. Every run we made with the Grand Am during testing, the car went straight. I never had to lift because the car didn't go straight. I never had to lift because the car got out of the groove. It went right down the track every run. I was real happy with that."
How do you think the Grand Am will stack up against the rest of the field of cars? "Well I thought the Firebird was very competitive and I think that the Grand Am will be even more competitive. When we're in a class looking for a thousandth of a second, a hundredth of a second is a big difference, and I wouldn't be surprised if this car is about a hundredth or two faster then our old car. That's not the biggest thing that impresses me either. The overall handling of the car and how it handles impresses me more which is how you win races - getting down the racetrack. But I can definitely see where some of the guys with longer wheelbase cars like the Oldsmobiles had an advantage."
What are your plans with the two-car team in 2001? "I like having the two-car team but, you have to have the assets in place to run a two-car team. You can't run a two-car team out of a one-car facility. With two cars though you can gain data. We suffered because we didn't have the people to run two cars. Once we got Terry (Adams) on board, we wanted to get the program with the number one car back to where it needed to be. We have to get my car running good before we even think about running another car. But it all comes down to having the personnel to do it, and frankly, when Ricky left we lost our personnel, and it's nearly impossible to replace in the middle of the season like that. We're looking to run the two-car team next year. We are in the process of looking for sponsorship for Jamie (Yates) so we can afford to do it and hire some more help. We know it's late in the game to be looking for sponsorship but we're still confident that we'll find something."
What do you want to accomplish next season? "I think we have to be realistic
and say we got to go out there and win races. We had the ET performance to
win races, and thus, if you can win races you can win a championship. But
until we can put the consistency together we can't even talk about that. Our
goal is to win the championship. We're doing everything we can this winter
to put ourselves in a position to win the championship. We know we have a
good engine program and now we just need to get our execution down. Where we
suffered this year basically was our execution, but with Terry Adams on
board, and the program in the direction it's going, I think we've got a
definite opportunity to be in contention for the championship. I think we'll
be in the top-three cars and fighting for it all year long."